Sorry, We're Clopen Source
The Three Fundamentals of Creative Strategy, Pt. 1

Dirty Little Deadline Tricks

Morning Schedule

Here's some dirty tricks I've seen used to get solid work out of designers, and have been used on me in the past. But I don't recommend using them. You'll see why.

Go ahead, take as many hours as you want. Within a ridiculously tight timeframe.

I've worked at some agencies where you had free reign to bill as much time as you wanted to your live projects. The rub was that you only got a few days for what should take weeks. It's a dirty management trick: the shorter the project schedule, the more likely you'll take a profit on the project. So squeeze it out of the creative staff.

Hello, designer. Clear your deck so your design time doesn't get chipped away. Focus, focus, focus. We will keep you out of meetings, push off your other projects, and bring you food to eat. But you only get two days to do those three logos. With color studies. And recommendations for look and feel on two brochure concepts.

Sometimes designers forget, when you're juggling a ton of projects, that sweeping everything aside and focusing tightly on one single problem can exponentially improve your work, especially when you're working with a tight team that meets every hour or two to compare notes and inspire rapid progress.

I've seen great results come out of this approach. But also spectacular failures. And the failures would often happen when management got greedy and did this to the same designer over and over again, since they hadn't grumbled that it was unfair. They would also happen when staff got "nickeled and dimed" with small tasks from other live projects. Without enough clear space to focus, there really isn't enough time to succeed without dragging into evenings and weekends. And who wants that?

Every deadline is equally important. You can't miss any of them. Or else.

Some designers respond well to this lie. Others have it used on them so often that they start to see through it.

What's useful, when working through a project schedule, is knowing what deadlines are somewhat arbitrary and which are crucial to a project's success. Time can then be redistributed to ensure no one gets crushed.

What does a designer hate to hear? That they've lost time on their luxurious design schedule because of something they can't control. The client needs a few days to forge a new business strategy, but the publication date for the ad won't change. Your vendor needs two weeks to produce your beautiful design, and can't give you any wiggle room to assure quality. The testing plan for your Web site is forcing a few late nights, because your testing resources have a fixed schedule and if you miss your window, you'll lose days on your schedule.

Knowing when to negotiate is critical. This is a matter of quality of communication, and shared values across your company -- that you won't make a staff member or team fully pay for an internal mishap or a client's revised needs. Time is money, and this is where it can be appreciated.

Our internal project deadline is just as important as a client project. No leeway here.

Personal and internal project deadlines should always be somewhat flexible, within reason. Here's why.

There's a distinct path your design will take on a trip through your studio or agency, through their company and their partners and focus groups and testing. Sometimes your designs even make it out into the world. But the ones that really shine above all the others rarely appear without, say, a creative brief, some kind of rudimentary competitive analysis, research, and an understanding of the psychology of your audience.

The same thinking applies for internal work. Many designers and agencies think they can step around their client-facing processes to do a task because it's "for themselves." This is a fallacy. It will require just as much time, or even more, to negotiate a project through your own internal politics. This is the time that we usually sit around and wait for client feedback on our paid work. While we wait, they're working hard, reviewing the design and getting feedback from key stakeholders. In an internal project, we have to deal with that stakeholder feedback firsthand. This takes more time and energy.

There should definitely be strong general deadlines for internal work, especially when it results in something that needs to be delivered to an external vendor by a specific time. But there always needs to be more room to negotiate timing than a traditional client project.

That is, unless you only have two days to do those three logos. See above...




As owner, I don't have higher-ups foisting these tricks on me anymore, unless you count clients, who are now my boss, happily. Clients try #1 on us verrry frequently. I take the ridiculous timeframe projects on only if a) we can do it without harming another project; b) it looks like enough fun to make the crunch enjoyable; c) there's future potential in having a relationship with that client. If we really can't fit it in, if nobody's going to have any fun, or if the client will never be heard from again (and doesn't seem likely to recommend us), then what's the point?

Money alone is not enough of a point, to me. I think people stuck at firms where these tactics are used all the time often discover that and move on, too.

Another great post!



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